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Goleta Community Speaks for the Trees

%E2%80%9CDo+Not+Enter%E2%80%9D+sign+posted+in+front+of+one+of+the+main+trails+in+the+Ellwood+Butterfly+Grove.+Many+trees+have+been+marked+with+identification+tags+by+a+tree+health+consultant+in+order+to+notify+visitors+of+potential+risk+and+distinguish+the+dead+and+dying+trees+from+the+living+trees.
“Do Not Enter” sign posted in front of one of the main trails in the Ellwood Butterfly Grove. Many trees have been marked with identification tags by a tree health consultant in order to notify visitors of potential risk and distinguish the dead and dying trees from the living trees.

“Do Not Enter” sign posted in front of one of the main trails in the Ellwood Butterfly Grove. Many trees have been marked with identification tags by a tree health consultant in order to notify visitors of potential risk and distinguish the dead and dying trees from the living trees.

Photo credit: Jaden Gill

Photo credit: Jaden Gill

“Do Not Enter” sign posted in front of one of the main trails in the Ellwood Butterfly Grove. Many trees have been marked with identification tags by a tree health consultant in order to notify visitors of potential risk and distinguish the dead and dying trees from the living trees.

By Jaden Gill, Editor-in-Chief

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September fifth was a night of debate for concerned environmentalists, City Council members, and Goleta residents who felt passionate enough to speak up about the City of Goleta’s pending decision to remove 1,395 trees from Goleta’s beloved Ellwood Butterfly Grove.

Fortunately for the locals who were outraged by what they consider an overly-ambitious plan, the option has been rescinded for the time being and replaced with a plan that appeals to the majority.

The controversy began last December when the City removed one large tree from the Main Butterfly Grove due to public safety concerns. Many community members attribute that disruption as the reason why the congregating Monarchs abandoned the Main Grove and relocated into smaller satellite sites throughout Ellwood.

The situation intensified towards the end of the summer after an immense number of dead and dying trees were discovered on public paths, leading the City to declare “emergency conditions” and reigniting concerns over possible effects of tree removal on the butterfly population.

Kevin Gleason, a DP art teacher and active nature enthusiast, views the controversy from a biological perspective, evaluating how climate change is causing species to suffer as their environment becomes warmer and drier. However, he typically believes that the most appropriate response is to observe rather than to interfere.

“I’m always on the side of letting nature do its thing,” Gleason said. “A tree takes centuries to decompose and the whole time it’s composting and feeding a whole variety of invertebrates, life, butterflies, and everything else that lives there.”

The reserve is not only a significant ecosystem for species of wildlife but a source of pride for many Goleta families who view the eucalyptus grove as their backyard.

Samantha Limkeman, a lacrosse coach and art teacher at Dos Pueblos High School, used to live in the Ellwood area. She spent an extensive amount of her time exploring the nature reserve, that is until she noticed the trails begin to abruptly close.

“The monarchs aren’t even going anymore,” said Limkeman “I’ve gone out there and everything is gone or at least some things are starting to go—those trees have been dying for a long time. I go for runs or just walks with my family and the trails that we used to be able to walk on are closed.”

The City of Goleta explained in a recent statement that the council supports the option to begin identifying certain paths on the Ellwood Mesa to reopen by only targeting for removal those trees with the greatest fall risk along those paths. They also plan to speed up the preparation for a habitat management plan to address the monarch butterflies and other native species living in the coastal forest.

After hours of acknowledging the voices of the public, the council voted 5-0 in favor of the conservationists and community members who pleaded for a more cautious approach.

“When things like this happen, we should not do nothing, but we should not act irrationally,” said Limkeman. “If these trees are going to fall, obviously we shouldn’t let people walk on these trails. Human safety is probably a priority, but not at the cost of just making decisions without asking the public to help make them.”

Senior Anna Gilmore has lived in the Ellwood neighborhood her whole life, with her most recent house being directly in front of the grove.

“It’s sad that they feel the need to remove so many trees because I know the bluffs well and the trees are definitely integral in that ecosystem,” Gilmore said. “They should look for the trees that are in the worst conditions and prioritize those.”

Ultimately, Goleta settled on the option that was created with the intent of removing 29 dead trees and clearly labeling unsafe trails, so that some publicly accessible areas could reopen without being in close proximity to the butterfly aggregation sites.

Michelle Greene, Goleta’s City Manager, released a staff report regarding the September 5th meeting early, due to the emergency conditions on the Ellwood Mesa.

“Given the butterfly and bird nesting season limitations, September is the best month for tree removal activity,” Greene said. “The prioritization of work area order, as directed by the City biologist, will provide greater assurance that monarch butterfly aggregations and nesting birds are protected while still allowing work to occur in other areas not occupied by these species.”

A great majority of community members are relieved that the City Council is taking a more cautious approach with respect to tree removal and has decided to expedite a habitat management plan, but this does not mean the Ellwood ecosystems will not undergo change.

Gleason is well versed in the world of invasive species and how they affect an ecosystem, and through his experience, has adopted the notion: least change for the greatest good.

“Even the eucalyptus trees, they were brought here for railroad ties to build railroads back in the day,” Gleason said. “Now we sort of see them as the new nature there that supports the monarch butterflies, which are the poster child for Ellwood.”

The issue can be boiled down to those who prioritize public access and those perturbed about the environmental effects and ecological damage that the removal of trees could create. With help from the public, City Council reached a balance, recognizing both environmental and safety concerns.

The compromise has settled the debate and allowed the City Council to proceed taking necessary precautions by removing the 29 trees that have proved an immediate hazard.

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Goleta Community Speaks for the Trees